When choosing a career, one of the starting points that many people use is to look at which type of jobs pay the most. Figuring out which jobs are the highest paying isn’t as straightforward as seems. So we decided to clear up a lot of the confusion by putting together this guide to the 25 best paying jobs in America. But before we look at the jobs themselves, let’s consider why some careers pay better than others.
First, not all jobs pay what we might suppose from media reports. For example, an athlete might earn a mean annual income of $80,950, according to government statistics from 2009. It’s not bad, but it’s hardly the all-star’s millions. And most athletes can’t even work till typical retirement age, so they must put away much of their income to finance a second career, perhaps in coaching. So if you’re not a star but like the work, it’s a good all-round job.
Also, some other jobs that get a lot of attention might not pay at all what we suppose. Legislators, for example, only earn $37,530 a year (mean annual). But then, many are part time and some are unpaid. They are often powerful without being rich. And if they get very rich, they may attract suspicion. So if you want safe high earnings, this is not the field for you. Similarly, community and social service occupations tend to pay low ($42,750) because the workers are not paid by the needy client, but by the taxpayer, who is usually not a client. Workers in this field are typically not even motivated by money, so efforts to raise their pay tend to peter out.
In general, teaching jobs are fairly safe, but they do not pay as well as “doing” jobs. For example, an economist might earn $96,320 (mean annual) in the private sector, but a college or university (post-secondary) economics teacher, only earns about $89,320 in salary. One difference is that the economist risks being laid off more readily than the economics teacher, so you need to balance risk against reward.
Also, even in the same general discipline, some sub-disciplines pay far better than others. Consider science, for example. An astronomer can make $102,250 but a biological scientist has an average salary of $69,430. The difference could be due in part to supply and demand. A critical question is, how many people are likely to compete with me for a job?
Similarly, you tend to get paid more if you work where a lot of money changes hands. Securities sales agents get $91,390, but demonstrators/product promoters in supermarkets get $26,640. That’s partly due to skill, but also partly because your salary seems much less significant to your boss when the deal is $2.9 million compared with, say, 60 boxes sold at $2.99 apiece.
Other important questions to consider are: how can I afford the education for this job? What is the career path? How long will it likely take me to become a top earner? If I lose the job, will I land on my feet? Is demand likely to grow or shrink? Can I afford to live where I must work? Do I want to live there? Is the job consistent with a fulfilling personal life?
Keeping these issues in mind, let’s look at some of the highest paying jobs, only one of which pays a bit less than $100,000 a year. We’ll group them roughly as: aviation, business, computer, energy, finance, law, marketing, medicine, science, and social science, according to the types of qualifications you will likely need. For a different approach, updated in 2012, we can also recommend the excellent resource: 50 High Paying Careers & The Degrees You Need for them.
Note: The figures for pay given beside the main entry below are the government’s mean annual salaries, that is, adding up the average salary each year for a given number of years, and dividing by the number of years. Other ways of determining income can be average income per year (total earnings divided by number of workers) or median (of the total number of workers what was the worker in the middle earning?). Also, several mean annuals were computed using groups of occupations that can be examined separately.
Transportation via airplane is critical to the modern business world as well as to the modern economy. It offers the fastest way to get people and goods from one place to another. Because of this, and because of the critical need for safety, there are plenty of opportunities for well paying jobs.
Air traffic controller – Salary: $106,990
What you do in this job: Air traffic controllers coordinate the system for managing air traffic around airports and along flight routes, to enable safe air travel. They communicate in English, which is the international language of aviation.
How to become an air traffic controller: Air traffic controllers must finish first an education program approved by the FAA. They must also complete a test that tests their ability to learn air traffic control duties. Applicants must also have 4 years of college, 3 years of full-time work experience, or both and have successfully completed an FAA-approved program. School recommendation is a definite advantage.
Airline pilot/co-pilot, or flight engineer – Salary: $117,060
What you do in this job: An airline pilot is licensed to operate an aircraft in flight. There are many types of license, depending on the craft. The co-pilot, also licensed, is the relief pilot for larger aircraft and must be able to assume full control in flight. The flight engineer’s task is the mechanical performance of the aircraft while in flight, and for large aircraft may the legally required third member of the crew.
How to become an airline pilot: To be an airplane pilot, one must have an FAA issued commercial pilot’s license and instrument rating. For helicopter pilots, a commercial pilot’s certificate and helicopter rating are required. To qualify for such licenses, applicants must be at least 18 years old and have at least 250 hours of flight experience. Aspiring pilots must also pass a meticulous physical examination to ensure he or she is in general good health, good hearing, and has 20/20 aided or unaided vision. They must also complete a written exam that tests one’s knowledge on FAA regulations, principles of safe flight, navigation techniques, and other important aspects of flying. Note:: Business commercial flight remains relatively stable, despite security issues, and that, rather than leisure, is the profitable end of the business.
The flight engineer oversees the plane’s many systems before, during, and after flight. Note: This career may be challenged by increasing robotic controls, and is often best pursued in the military, supervising the development of cutting-edge machines.
Because we live in a service economy, business jobs are perhaps the most abundant. The vast majority of business jobs are mid-level jobs, but almost all such jobs provide opportunities for career growth up to the level of CEO or even the most sought after job of all: business owner. The highest paying jobs in business are management positions that get rewarded for overall performance.
Manager – Salary: $99,100
What you do in this job: The manager directs the activities of a business, organization, or government department, large or small. The title “manager” differs from that of “supervisor” because the manager is usually considered, as the name implies, to have a management (= executive) position. The supervisor is a non-management employee who directs the work of other employees, reporting to the manager.
How to become a manager: This is a broad field. One could manage any organization from an agricultural operation ($54,900 ) to a gym or sports salon ($75,000 – $100,000). This site alone lists 66 management occupations. For some, such as restaurant manager ($30,000 – $46,000, high school diploma), you can learn on the job, but these managerial positions tend to be lower paying. For others, property manager, for example ($64,000 – $95,000), you would need a Bachelor’s or Master’s in, for example, business, real estate, finances, or management. Most managers are older than the people they supervise, so one usually work for some years as an employee at a lower salary. Essentially, your employer is paying you to learn, and taking higher education on your own time signals your desire to advance.
General or operations manager – Salary: $110,550
What you do in this job: A General or Operations Manager is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the day-to-day workings of a company. This involves directing the work of other managers and helping with strategic planning (= where the company wants to be in ten years and how to get there).
How to become an operations manager: To supervise the managers of a company’s day to day business operations, you need a business or finance degree, Master’s is best but Bachelor’s may work. You also need to be a strong leader and capable decision-maker with good people skills. How much you earn depends on the size of company you work for and the number of people you supervise. However, the skill set is usually portable, so you can advance by accepting a position with a larger company and higher salary after you have proven yourself.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) – Salary: $167, 280
What you do in this job: As the highest-ranking employee in a company or organization, the CEO is expected to carry out the policies of the company’s board of directors, in sync with the strategic plan. Reporting to the CEO are the other highest-ranking officers listed, who are the top managers of their areas.
How to become a CEO: The Chief Executive Officer of a company is its highest ranking officer, and unless you own the company, it will take a while to get there. You should have a Bachelor’s degree in finances or economics, but for career success, consider other key credentials. For example, if your company markets home nursing services, as you rise in management, your name can inspire more confidence with R.N. (Registered Nurse) after it. Consider also, Chief Operations Officer (COO) and Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Information Officer (CIO), and Chief Technology Officer. Remember, however, that life is even riskier at the top than at the bottom because many capable people want your job, and you must constantly demonstrate that you are still the best, until you yourself are ready to move on.
Every body uses computers. Movies get made on computers. Cars get designed on computers. People invest and get their news using computers Computers are critical to everything we take for granted in modern society. Because of their centrality, there is a huge demand for jobs for people who unique or rare technical expertise. Even a programmer of a rare but critical programming language can get paid very well.
Computer hardware engineer – Salary: $101,410
What you do in this job: Computer hardware engineers develop, test, and install the physical parts of your computer, such as computer chips, circuit boards, systems, modems, keyboards, and printers. This contrasts with software engineers, who work with the programs for which the hardware is the platform.
How to become a computer engineer: You should start with an engineering degree, but courses in social sciences are a considerable asset. You are responsible for creating the physical hardware on which computers run, and that is where an understanding of people is an asset. Your company’s customers are all people.
Computer or information scientist – Salary: $105,370
What you do in this job: Computer and information scientists work with the big picture: hardware, software, how it is used, and its implications for a business or for society in general. A key job is testing predictions about what will work, before large sums of money and years of time are invested.
How to become a computer scientist: If you solve hardware and software problems as a computer and information science theorist, designer, inventors or researcher, look at this career. Note, however, that 80% of current professionals have a Master’s degree, 18 % have a Doctorate or other professional degree, and only 2% have a Master’s degree. Bill Gates may have started in his garage, but the common knowledge base of the industry has grown so much that, if you are not a genius, you will need to start with higher education. You could end up as Chief Information Officer (CIO) or Chief Technology Officer.
The world runs on energy. Modern economies are dependent on energy. In fact, Donald Trump has been quoted as saying that oil is the lifeblood of modern societies. And he’s right. Readily available energy is the most valuable commodity in the world so much so that nations go to war in order to control energy resources. Because this industry is so critical, getting a job and becoming an integral part of the industry could pay huge dividends.
Nuclear engineer – Salary: $100,350
What you do in this job: Nuclear engineers design build, and operate or safely decommission nuclear power facilities (places where radiation is used). They also work with nuclear propulsion of spacecraft, ships, or submarines, and the many medical uses of radiation.
How to become a nuclear engineer: A nuclear engineer works with atomic particles, perhaps to safely dispose of nuclear waste, help physicists study the basic structure of the universe, build weapons, or develop new ways of diagnosing diseases. Nobody should just fool around with nukes, so you usually need at least a Master’s degree, but a Doctorate admits you to the best career opportunities with the highest salaries. If that’s out of the question, consider the U.S. Navy Power Plant program, which may accept suitable applicants with a high school diploma. Because nuclear is often controversial, some career opportunities may depend on the political climate, so courses in social sciences are worth considering. They may help you understand conundrums such as this: Many people who fear nuclear energy sources for their home will accept radiation for their bodies if they need cancer treatment.
Petroleum (oil, natural gas) engineer – Salary: $119,960
What you do in this job: Locating and developing oil or natural gas reserves comprises a number of specialties, from geological through construction engineering A key job is helping determine what the market value of a find is, before investments are made in drilling.
How to become a petroleum engineer: Petroleum engineers explore for oil and gas, and it’s no surprise that they are highly paid because, if they are successful, many other people can be successful too. You start with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, specializing in petroleum engineering, but for advancement, keep learning. The field and the technology are always changing. Courses in social sciences and business can be useful, or even required, if you aspire to management, especially high management, because petroleum is politically highly controversial, and running a big business requires more than just finding oil.
Whenever money changes hands there is money to be made. So naturally a job in finance can be a high paying one since finance jobs naturally involve financial transactions. In times of economic recessions, low level finance jobs tend to get drastically cut out of the economy, so it pays to have a higher level finance job that pays well and offers job security too.
Sales manager – Salary: $111,570
What you do in this job: Sales managers train, supervise, and evaluate sales staff. Working with the marketing manager, they also study the market and establish sales territories.
How to become a sales manager: You should work in sales first, so you know who and what you are managing. By all means, add to your natural skill at motivating people to make sales by getting a Bachelor’s degree in economics, business, management or a related field. You know you have the talent, but that’s one way the company — and other companies who may offer you a better package — knows you are serious about staying in the field.
Financial manager – Salary: $113,730
What you do in this job: Financial managers organize, control and disperse an organization’s money. They must balance such issues as how much profit should be distributed among shareholders vs. how much invested in growth.
How to become a financial manager: A Bachelor’s or Master’s in finances or economics, and an accounting designation qualify you to manage a company’s finances, along with years of experience. Keep in mind that this is a job where you probably need to climb the career ladder in a single company. If you are given access to critical company financial data, the company will often match or beat a competitor’s job offer just to keep you on board.
When asked what the highest paying jobs are, most school aged kids will say “doctor” and “lawyer” and to a large extent that is true. Lawyers command an awful lot of power in our society and often serve to protect the interests of most profitable corporations and institutions in the world. And many of the most important social decisions get determined by judges. So if you enjoy the high pressure of political and social power, a legal job might be right up your alley.
Judge, magistrate judge, and magistrate – Salary: $103,990
What you do in this job: Judges hear and decide on cases in a civil or criminal law court, often assisted by a jury of citizens. A magistrate or justice of the peace usually hears minor cases, perhaps traffic or sobriety offenses, and may also administers oaths and perform marriages.
How to become a judge: A judge should start by being a lawyer. In some states, many judges are elected and in others, they are appointed. If you must get elected, you need to know something about politics. If appointed, you can usually sit on the bench for life, but that entails a lot of competition for the position. A magistrate hears minor cases, for example in the traffic court. You almost always need a law degree, but even if you live in a community that doesn’t require one, you won’t likely rise in the system without it. Anyone who did have one would be preferred to you for advancement. The career of judge confers great prestige and social power, but it comes at a price: Minor offenses can cost a judge’s career.
Lawyer – Salary: $129,020
What you do in this job: Sometimes called an attorney, a lawyer is authorized to represent clients in the civil or criminal courts, draft legal documents such as wills and property sales, and give legal advice.
How to become a lawyer: It may seem surprising that the median annual income for lawyers is higher than that for judges, but that’s because judges are paid according to a schedule but many lawyers are paid according to the market. Others work for the government or private concerns, where there are scheduled rates. But in any event, you cannot be a lawyer without a law degree (three to four years). Don’t be surprised if you are expected to get a Bachelor’s degree in another field first, but if so, it is an advantage if you specialize in law related to the field. Law is an excellent background career choice if you aspire to a high office in business or political life. Why in political life? Because if you are a partner in a law office, you can take time off to campaign or serve as a legislator, and success will bring your partners good publicity as well.
In this day and age marketing is everything. A great product without good marketing is a failed product. Marketing becomes a lot easier when you have a worthwhile product or service to promote and becomes painstakingly difficult when you’re tasked with promoting something that’s no good. The best paying jobs in marketing are those that involve management. In a marketing management position, you will be the captain that makes the final choices and steers the overall marketing ship.
Public relations manager – Salary: $101,850
What you do in this job: Public relations managers are skilled publicists who are given a budget to protect and enhance a company’s reputation. In today’s increasingly global market, the job is more competitive, more challenging, and more important.
How to become a public relations manager: Most companies want a Master’s degree from those who would represent their corporate face to the public (Master’s of Business Administration or MBA is good). Successful PR managers also need an ability to show grace, working with a variety of personality types under pressure. Sometimes the pressure is just the work of building the company’s image, other times, dealing constructively with a scandal. In the latter case, if you demonstrate your skill as a PR “ambulance”, you can easily command a top salary.
Marketing manager – Salary: $120,070
What you do in this job: A marketing manager develops a strategy to make a company’s products or services recognized and highly regarded in the marketplace. In larger companies, a marketing manager may be responsible for only one product or service.
How to become a marketing manager: What’s the difference between marketing and sales? Marketing means creating desire for a product or service, so people will consider using it or staying loyal to it. Sales is the ka-chink at the cash desk. So marketing is the broader strategy of creating an image; sales (see sales manager) is the targeted strategy of making a sale. People have succeeded in this job with no qualifications – the all-American success story – but to qualify for the highest paying jobs at a big company with a huge marketing budget aimed at protecting key brands, get a Bachelors or Masters degree in marketing, management, finances or economics.
Medicine & Health Jobs
The best advice regarding getting into medicine, a very high paying profession, is: 1) Do not drop your science courses. 2) If you did, or got bad marks, see if you can take the subject again and substitute the better score. 3) Make sure any school you study at is fully accredited for your chosen profession. 4) Remember, because you will need to, Canadian physician William Osler’s description: “Cure sometimes, relieve often, comfort always .”
Orthodontist – Salary: $206,190
What you do in this job: An orthodontist treats the misalignment of teeth and facial development with braces, retainers, headgear and other methods.
How to become an orthodontist: To be the one who turns a challenging set of teeth into a winning smile, using the latest technology, you need two to three years training after dental school. While many people associate orthodontics with children, there has been a trend to adults selecting a course of treatment, to improve both the function and appearance of their teeth.
Oral and maxillofacial surgeon – Salary: $210,710
What you do in this job: An oral/maxillofacial surgeon diagnoses and treats defects, diseases, and injuries of the mouth, jaw, neck, and other soft tissues in the head.
How to become an oral surgeon: To qualify to repair mouths and jaws as well as teeth, you need a degree in dental surgery, then four to eight years in postgraduate training in oral and maxillofacial surgery. There was a time when people pretty much had to live with facial or dental misfortunes, whether by birth or by injury. But not any more. Many will find the funds for a second chance.
Anesthesiologist – Salary: $211,750
What you do in this job: An anesthesiologist (often, anesthetist) prevents or control pain during surgery, injury or chronic/terminal illness. It has been described as walking patients to the brink of death, to repair something, and then bringing them back alive.
How to become an anesthesiologist : An anesthesiologist is a medical doctor who usually starts with a four-year undergraduate degree and then goes on to a four-year medical degree, training as a resident. Not all anaesthesia is used during medical procedures; it is often done during dental procedures, such as removal of impacted wisdom teeth. Also, anesthesiologists may focus on pain management generally, in the growing field of helping patients keep pain and discomfort under control while living a normal live.
Surgeon – Salary: $219,770
What you do in this job: A surgeon is a physician who treats deformity, disease, or injury by physical methods, such as a scalpel. In recent years, the profession has adopted “least invasive” methods, using such techniques as laparoscopy.
How to become a surgeon: A surgeon starts with a Bachelor’s degree, specializes in medicine and finally, surgery and then spends up to seven years as an intern/resident. If you want to cut people open, they want to be really sure you know what you are doing. There are 14 different surgical specialties listed on SuperScholars under Health Care careers. The field is bound to grow, due to longevity. This is one of the highest demand, highest paying jobs around because it takes so much skill and precision.
The highest paying science jobs are the ones that require the most technical expertise. It is almost always the case that a high paying job in science will demand graduate level education either at the Master’s or Doctoral level. It is not unusual for a person pursuing a career in science to spend 5-8 years beyond an undergraduate education.
Astronomer – Salary: $102,740
What you do in this job: Astronomers study matter in outer space, including galaxies other than our own. The field has advanced considerably in recent years, due to much more technically advanced telescopes.
How to become an astronomer: Galileo built his own telescope and discovered the principal moons of Jupiter, but that was then. Today, get all the formal qualifications you can in astronomy or physics. In a sense, astronomy is a branch of physics, because physics is critical to interpreting astronomical findings. today. Teaching and presenting skills, enhanced by education in these areas, are a considerable asset because of public demand for information about our universe. While certainly one of the highest paying jobs available, astronomers are not in very high demand.
Engineering manager – Salary: $122,810
What you do in this job: Engineering managers, sometimes called project managers, typically lead a team of engineers engaged in a specific project.
How to become an engineering manager: Engineering is applied science, and the “applied” part is where the wheels fall off. So first, you must be an engineer, and must have project experience, to ensure that other engineers can trust your basic understanding. But you definitely need people skills as well, to manage effectively, so consider continuing education in psychology or human resources to maximize your chances of getting this high paying job.
Physicist – Salary: $111,250
What you do in this job: Physicists study how objects behave, and offer predictions about the outcomes. The objects can be live animals or humans, provided that the criteria for prediction are physical.
How to become a physicist: Physicists identify the laws of nature and study the structures and behavior of matter. They may work in geophysics, astrophysics, atomic physics, molecular physics, biophysics, chemical physics, material science physics, cosmology, nuclear physics, and optics. While one can work as a physicist with a Masters degree, today a Doctorate is the key to advancement. With new discoveries every day, physics is a growing field but one needs to choose a cutting edge specialty for best advancement.
Natural sciences manager – Salary: $127,000
What you do in this job: Natural science managers oversee the work of scientists in government, business, and organizations. This includes planning and coordinating research for best results.
How to become a natural sciences manager: To supervise scientists working in fields such as biology or chemistry, you may not need a science degree in theory, but you had best have one in practice, along with a management degree. That is because you need to understand what they are saying and what top management is saying, and then translate between them.
Social Science Jobs
Many jobs in the social sciences, such as social worker, don’t have much room for substantial salary growth over the course of a career. However, there are some social science jobs that provide you with the opportunity to become a high paid worker and we’ve listed them below.
Political scientist – Salary: $101,050
What you do in this job: Political scientists are a branch of social science who study the ideas and behavior of people in relation to government worldwide. While most political scientists teach at universities and colleges, many are consultants for politicians, labor unions, media, management consultant firms, and government agencies at home and abroad.
How to become a political scientist: In today’s turbulent world, a political scientist, who can analyze governments, political movements, and social conflicts has many opportunities for career advancement, including teaching and writing books. Start with a Bachelors, but more people will listen to you when you can put PhD after your name.
Industrial or organizational psychologist – Salary: $102,570
What you do in this job: Industrial or organizational psychologists bring psychological insights to bear on why organizations work or don’t, and what changes are needed.
How to become an industrial psychologist: An industrial psychologist examines the reasons people are motivated to perform well (or not) in a work setting, and recommends changes that might improve performance. As with many fields, you can probably get hired with a Bachelors, but for career success, high pay, and flexibility, work on a Doctorate. Look for universities that specialize in Industrial Psychology.